In the days leading up the official opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, you will likely have seen an explosion of excitement among many American evangelicals.
This is because millions believe that the increased recognition of Israel as a sovereign and God-ordained nation is a central element in the series of events that will precede the return of Jesus Christ. “Prophecy,” “End-Times,” “Armageddon,” “Apocalypse,” these are all terms that have been flying around in recent days.
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Here’s more context to help better understand what’s happening:
Firstly, among huge swathes of evangelicals, there is a fundamental belief that God is repatriating his people to the promised land of Israel. Simply put, many Christians believe that God’s promise to protect and uphold the Jewish people is an eternal one – that it is a promise that very much still applies today. Genesis 15:18-21 reads:
“On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”” (ESV)
God reiterates his promise to Isaac, son of Abraham in Genesis 28:13: “And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.” (ESV)
The promises get more specific as we move into Exodus in the Bible.
In Exodus 23:31, God details the exact, bordered real estate that is to belong to the Israelites, declaring “I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you.” (ESV)
Without going into a detailed Biblical history of the plight of the Israelites, it is important to note a few key events that contribute to the modern-day evangelical and “Zionist” belief that the reemergence of the state of Israel has occurred in line with a divine mandate. In Numbers 34, Moses is commanded by God to lead the Israelites out of exodus and enter the land of Canaan (which is located in present-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel). The passage reads:
The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter Canaan, the land that will be allotted to you as an inheritance is to have these boundaries:
3 “‘Your southern side will include some of the Desert of Zin along the border of Edom. Your southern boundary will start in the east from the southern end of the Dead Sea, 4 cross south of Scorpion Pass, continue on to Zin and go south of Kadesh Barnea. Then it will go to Hazar Addar and over to Azmon, 5 where it will turn, join the Wadi of Egypt and end at the Mediterranean Sea.
6 “‘Your western boundary will be the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This will be your boundary on the west.
“‘For your northern boundary, run a line from the Mediterranean Sea to Mount Hor 8 and from Mount Hor to Lebo Hamath. Then the boundary will go to Zedad, 9 continue to Ziphron and end at Hazar Enan. This will be your boundary on the north.
10 “‘For your eastern boundary, run a line from Hazar Enan to Shepham.11 The boundary will go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain and continue along the slopes east of the Sea of Galilee.[a] 12 Then the boundary will go down along the Jordan and end at the Dead Sea.
“‘This will be your land, with its boundaries on every side.’”
Again, this was a specific and stern command, setting out the land that was to be under the rule of Israel. Note that the end of the passage reads that God “assigned the inheritance to the Israelites in the land of Canaan.” Many evangelicals would see this passage as a clear-cut fulfillment of the prophetic promise made in Deuteronomy 1:8: in which God declares: “I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”
“When we talk about the Holy Land, God’s promise of the Holy Land, we’re talking about real estate on both sides of the Jordan River. So the sense of a greater Israel and expansionism is really important to this community,” University of North Texas professor Elizabeth Oldmixon told Vox last year. “Jerusalem is just central to that. It’s viewed as a historical and biblical capital.”
Consider also Ezekiel 47:13-20, where the Lord defines the “boundaries of the land” that is to be allotted to Israel. “Because I swore with uplifted hand to give it to your ancestors, this land will become your inheritance,” God says.
“This is to be the boundary of the land:
“On the north side it will run from the Mediterranean Sea by the Hethlon road past Lebo Hamath to Zedad, 16 Berothah[a] and Sibraim (which lies on the border between Damascus and Hamath), as far as Hazer Hattikon, which is on the border of Hauran. 17 The boundary will extend from the sea to Hazar Enan,[b] along the northern border of Damascus, with the border of Hamath to the north. This will be the northern boundary.
18 “On the east side the boundary will run between Hauran and Damascus, along the Jordan between Gilead and the land of Israel, to the Dead Sea and as far as Tamar.[c] This will be the eastern boundary.
19 “On the south side it will run from Tamar as far as the waters of Meribah Kadesh, then along the Wadi of Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea. This will be the southern boundary.
20 “On the west side, the Mediterranean Sea will be the boundary to a point opposite Lebo Hamath. This will be the western boundary.”
A related sector of such prophetic belief, subscribed to by many evangelicals, is called “Christian Zionism.”
In short, Christian Zionism is the core belief that the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent repatriation of Jews to this piece of land, was in accordance with Biblical prophecy and is part of a series of events that must occur prior to the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, it is a theology-centric justification for the emigration of Jews to Israel, as the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) notes, “The actual theology of Christian Zionism, also known as Biblical Zionism, supports the right of the Jewish people to return to their homeland on scriptural grounds.”
A recent LifeWay poll found that some 80 percent of evangelicals believed that the creation of Israel in 1948 was a fulfillment of biblical prophecy that will usher forth the return of Christ. The literal belief many of these things must happen before Jesus will return to reign on Earth is commonly known as “dispensational pre-millennialism.” This belief, popularized in Britain as a central theological tenet of the “Plymouth Brethren,” is held, in some form, by millions of modern-day American evangelicals. An early proponent of this latest version of pre-millennialism was the Plymouth Brethren’s John Nelson Darby – a former priest in the Anglican Church of Ireland who articulated a new variety of futurist premillennialism. He labeled it dispensationalism after the division of history into “dispensations or eras.”
This theological assertion also predicts that, when Jesus returns, he will begin a thousand-year reign of peace. Crucially, this rule would commence in Jerusalem.
Many Christian Zionists, such as Texan pastor John Hagee, would refer to some key scriptures found both in the Old and New Testament to back up their doctrinal assertions regarding this contested land. Let’s take a look at a few:
2 Chronicles 6:5-6 – “Since the day that I brought my people out of the land of Egypt, I chose no city in all the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there, and I chose no man as prince over my people Israel; but I have chosen Jerusalem that my name may be there and I have chosen David to be over my people Israel.”
Ezekiel 37:2 – “And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms.”
Joel 3:2 – “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land.”
Amos 9:14-15 – “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the Lord your God”
And what about the New Testament? Well, there are many interpretations of, for example, the book of Revelation in relation to the role of Israel in the end times. But there are also quite a few other New Testament references to Israel.
“New Testament scriptures not only affirm the Abrahamic covenant, but they confirm the historical mission of Israel and that Israel’s gifts and calling are irrevocable,” notes the ICEJ.
Luke 2:25 – “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”
Luke 21:24 – “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
Acts 15:14-16 – “Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this, the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it.”
All this scriptural basis is interesting, but how does it relate to the U.S. embassy relocating to Jerusalem? Well, when President Trump made the momentous announcement last December to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel, he delighted those evangelicals who continue to argue the eternal importance of this historic city as the very epicenter of Biblical prophecy. Through enshrining Jerusalem as the “eternal capital” of the Jewish people, the Trump administration was, deliberately or otherwise, nodding to the Biblical prophecy held to by so many evangelicals.
Just think about it: if you are convinced that the repatriation of the Jewish people to the state of Israel is something that must occur in the sequence of events leading up to the return of Christ, it is immensely exciting to think that the world’s greatest superpower is acknowledging the absolute legitimacy of Israel’s right to this hallowed ground. There is no doubt that the landmark recognition will encourage even more Jews to return to Jerusalem, which is arguably in accordance with Biblical prophecy. Many also believe that as this occurs, there will be an ongoing and mass conversion of Jews to Christ.
“Gentile believers have been grafted into Israel by faith, and while the Mosaic covenant has been fulfilled through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Abrahamic covenant (God’s promise to make a great nation of Abraham’s descendants and bless them with land) continues to endure,” wrote Nathan Finn at Christianity Today. “Simply put, God is not finished with the Jews, and the future of Gentile Christianity is closely tied to the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.”
Let’s look at President Trump’s words on the day of the embassy opening:
“Almost immediately after declaring statehood in 1948, Israel designated the city of Jerusalem as its capital. The capital the Jewish people established in ancient times. So important.
Today, Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government. It is the home of the Israeli legislature and the Israeli supreme court and Israel’s prime minister and president. Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital.
Today, we follow through on this recognition and open our embassy in the historic and sacred land of Jerusalem. This city and its entire nation is a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.”
“As far as God is concerned, Jerusalem has been the eternal, undivided capital since the reign of David,” said Laurie Cardoza-Moore, whose hosts a TV program called Focus on Israel, which is aimed at evangelicals who see the Bible as “true and historically accurate.” God, she said, “established the boundaries of all the nations, and he chose the city of Jerusalem for himself,” according to NPR adding that the embassy move was “spiritually, biblically and historically significant.”
Geography is everything in Israel, and it has been for centuries. The establishment of a Jewish state and the subsequent expansion of its borders has been seen by many evangelicals as God’s promised favor and protection — not to mention the continued uncovering of Biblical history beneath the earth of this sacred land. “Everywhere you put a shovel in the ground in Jerusalem, you will find Jewish roots and connecting to Bible stories,” Zionist Jew and Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat pointed out to NPR.
As Jews have flocked to this pocket of land over the years, it could be argued that God is drawing his people to the “promised land,” as scripture attests. As a result, many Jewish leaders believe they have a clear Biblical prerogative that compels them to reject the intervention of the United Nations in ruling on the allocation of land.
“Any U.N. resolution that dismisses the Bible and dismisses the history, in many, many ways is irrelevant,” Barkat added. “If you go back, even legally, [Jerusalem] was never anything but belonging to the Jewish people.”
“Jerusalem has been the object of the affection of both Jews and Christians down through history and the touchstone of prophecy,” said Pastor Robert Jeffress, who gave prayers at the recent embassy opening in Jerusalem. While this may all seem a little wacky to the theologically unaware, it is important to remember that millions of Americans believe it. For the enormous numbers of American evangelicals who have held onto a belief that Israel must take bold action in establishing itself as a recognized and sovereign nation, this controversial embassy move is wildly exciting.
Of course, not all Christians subscribe to such teaching. Many believers assert staunch opposition to Christian Zionism, believing that it undermines peacebuilding efforts in the region. Many denominations, including The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (Catholic), the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of Jerusalem, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land have asserted that Christian Zionism unashamedly substitutes a “political-military program in place of the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
Further to this, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has issued a scathing summary of the adverse effects it believes Christian Zionism imposes on the region.
The Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches noted its belief that such a theological stance adversely affects “justice and peace in the Middle East, delaying the day when Israelis and Palestinians can live within secure borders” and jeopardizes “relationships with Middle Eastern Christians” as well as with the wider Jewish population. It stated that, within the theology of Christian Zionism, Jews are seen as “mere pawns in an eschatological scheme.”
Further to this, in 2006, the highest ranking Christian leaders of Jerusalem issued a “statement of concern” regarding the “rising popularity of modem Christian theologies and political movements that embrace the extreme ideological positions of Christian Zionism.” A part of the statement reads as follows:
“The Christian Zionist programme provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism, and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today. We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice, and reconciliation.”
Alongside the obvious excitement, evangelical Christians must remember the fundamental call to compassion, care, and justice.
The eschatological considerations of recent events in Israel should not override the inescapable and Biblical mandate to uphold the dignity of all people. There is no doubt that Gaza is going through a devastating humanitarian crisis, made worse by the violent behavior of Hamas and the corrupt elements of the Palestinian National Authority. With that being said, such a triumphalist and apocalyptic approach to the U.S. embassy move is highly contentious and Christians must remember that the relocation serves a plethora of strategic geopolitical, nationalist and diplomatic ends.
Of course, there is an added theological consideration. But for Mr. Trump, however, the motive appears purely political; a move to make good on a promise that was made many years ago by the U.S. government via the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 – this is important for evangelicals to note.
But the point is this: no matter what our theological assertions, we must not be averse to prayer and action with regards to a hard-pressed and marginalized people group.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” – Colossians 3:12.
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